Most players are looking for ways to stop the aging process. But in a recent short featuring football phenom David Beckham, the focus was on adding decades to the star.
Using a combination of traditional VFX techniques and its proprietary face-swap technology, Charlatan, Digital Domain was able to take Beckham far into the future without 3D scanning. This for the new “Malaria must die – so millions can live” short film, produced by RSA Films Amsterdam, to raise awareness about the end of this deadly disease.
In the short, an older Beckham gives a speech on the day malaria ended, sending a message of hope years later. As he speaks, the years roll by, leaving today’s Beckham to make this final plea – a malaria-free future is possible in our lifetime, but only if we keep fighting.
David Beckham as he appears today.
To achieve this transformation, Digital Domain received performance clips from Beckham and a former replacement giving the speech. These reference materials were then fed into Charlatan, a technology that uses machine learning and video footage to produce realistic digi-doubles. Because Charlatan is non-invasive, the system could be completely driven by principal photography, allowing Beckham to film his scenes without intensive data capture shooting.
To give the artists a head start, Charlatan cleverly merged the performances of today’s Beckham and an older replacement to automatically project what an older Beckham would sound like giving the same speech. Through this process, key age characteristics such as skin movement and specific wrinkles were woven into the likeness, while retaining all of Beckham’s unique attributes. This saved months of sculpting time from the process and helped the team have natural-looking noses, laugh lines and other hard-to-animate features nearly complete before traditional techniques failed. enters the game.
“As an artist, what you’re really looking for is control. Details are important when it comes to faces, especially when your subject is known around the world,” says supervisor Dan Bartolucci. VFX at Digital Domain. “It became clear that blending the attributes of an older face was going to give our team the nuance they needed. To facilitate this, we turned to Digital Domain’s in-house R&D team, Digital Humans Group , which has a long history of creating tools that push the boundaries of facial realism, they have succeeded once again, inventing a process that is the perfect blend of technology and artistry.
With a high resolution base to work from, the artists began applying a human touch to the face, defining key elements of the aging process using traditional techniques, such as matte painting and compositing. Since aging indices are highly subjective, the artists needed complete control over hair, skin, and beard to create a believable transformation. Unlike most methods, however, the team didn’t have to create a single piece of 3D geometry to do so, which helped them produce a final asset in less than eight weeks.
“We all knew this was a big project. Nailing down the inimitable detail for David Beckham’s older look was key,” said Ross Plummer, managing director of Ridley Scott Creative Group. “What Digital Domain has created is world-class and captivating. We needed that ‘wow’ factor to break through the noise.”
David Beckham digitally aged by Digital Domain.
“In visual effects, we often succeed in creating remarkable and memorable images, but we rarely succeed in applying our craft to such a remarkable cause,” said John Fragomeni, global president VFX at Digital Domain. “We are honored to have been able to contribute to this project and help move a story that needs to be told.”